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Book Review: Popcorn with the Pope

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Popcorn with the Pope: A Guide to the Vatican Film List
provides exactly what the subtitle suggests: an eclectic collection of movies created in March of 1995 by Pope St. John Paul II. A great lover of the arts, in explaining his rationale for the list, he wrote:

Since the first public audience in Paris viewed the moving pictures prepared by the Lumière brothers in December 1895, the film industry has become a universal medium exercising a profound influence on the development of people’s attitudes and choices, and possessing a remarkable ability to influence public opinion and culture across all social and political frontiers. The Church’s overall judgment of this art form, as of all genuine art, is positive and hopeful.

We see here a central theme of John Paul II, hope, and his recognition of film’s importance as a medium for that theme.

The Vatican Film List is, of course, not an exhaustive list of good films, nor is it an assertion of the 45 all-time best films. Rather, it is 45 genuine and beautiful films (to use the saint’s own language) that many consider masterpieces. They are organized into three categories: Religion, Values and Art. Movies like the Russian great Andrei Rublev and American epic Ben-Hur fall under Religion, It’s a Wonderful Life and Au Revoir Les Enfants appear under Values, while 8 ½ and 2001: A Space Odyssey are placed under Art.

Popcorn with the Pope is an exciting book to pick up, especially if you saw some of the movies but not all. It provides an overview of the list, then a brief summary of each movie and why it is included. Exploring the ins and outs of each in just a few pages gives audiences a sense of what to expect in each film or, perhaps, a new perspective on ones they have not seen in years.

Taking one of my favorites on the list, the 1955 Danish film Ordet by Carl Theodor Dreyer, I offer this magnified look at one such review. Andrew Petiprin focuses on the film’s premise, plot and core values as he walks readers through it. It is a strange film, centered on two families of contrasting Protestant beliefs and the seemingly irreconcilable differences between and among them. “Ordet is a masterful work of Christian thought that demands careful attention and evokes deep contemplation,” writes Petiprin. He asserts that the film influenced later superb directors, such as Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky and Terrence Malick.

Popcorn with the Pope is a great read that provides a succinct analysis of each film, including reflections on morality, Catholic faith, modern comparisons and the films’ styles and influences. It is a book for film lovers, Catholics seeking dynamic art and those who wish to understand how cinema can increase Christian devotion in beautiful ways.

Graham Craycraft is a graduate of Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Kara, and teaches Middle School Theology at Bishop Dunne Catholic School.

David Paul Baird, Andrew Petiprin & Michael Ward, Popcorn with the Pope: A Guide to the Vatican Film List, Word on Fire, 2023; 416 pages; $29.95

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